I find my feminist voice sometime in early puberty. For the second or third day in a row, Mom is ridding our home of leavened food as Passover approaches. This Sunday morning she is scouring every inch of the kitchen; cabinets, pantries, appliances, and I’m there helping her with this grueling task. Mom and Dad take this cleansing ritual very seriously, but Mom is the one that does the physical labor.
Although the same routine is played out every year, this year, I am keenly aware something is very wrong with this picture. Mom is on her hands and knees, or up to her elbows, cleaning, cleaning, cleaning… like a slave, I observe. Dad, meanwhile, relaxes on the sofa, reading a newspaper. As I fill the pantry with zillions of “Kosher for Passover” canned foods mom has purchased, I shout out, ”You know what I think, I think men made this whole thing up, about cleaning the house of chametz (leavened food) to keep women working in the kitchen. That’s what I think.” Mom groans, rolling her eyes in annoyance. “Dad’s been sitting there on the sofa doing nothing all morning, while we do all of the work,” I state in a huff. “If it’s not about men wanting to keep women in the kitchen, then how come he’s not helping too?” Hmmmm. With that Dad gently folds the paper down and makes eye contact with Mom. A few minutes later he comes in to help us.
This is what happens when you have a home dominated with women. My observations don’t stop there. At our Seder, my sisters and I diss the four sons scripted in the Hagaddah (Passover seder guide), and replace them with the four daughters. “Are we not worthy,” we ask? Again, the parental eye rolling.
As a young adult my voice strengthens from reading The Women’s Room, The Feminine Mystique. In college I subscribe to Ms. Magazine. Gloria Steinem, Letty Cottin Pogrebin and Betty Friedan are my newfound hero’s. My feminist voice is a huge impediment to obtaining a job post college. “Why,” I question the personnel managers, “are the guys interviewing for this position not required to take a typing test like me, a female?” Surely their two hands and ten fingers are as capable of typing too. Interview after interview, I experience the same gender bias – female candidates are expected to perform traditional secretarial duties, while male counterparts are not, even when applying for the same entry-level assistant position. It makes my skin crawl. I cling more to my Ms. Magazine.
Through a friend I learn that Gloria Steinem is the keynote speaker for our Jewish Federation’s women’s division fundraiser event this spring. Last Thursday, 500 women of varying ages, including myself, pack The Mansion on Main Street to hear this feminist icon speak about the ongoing hurdles we face for pay equality, reproductive choice, and attaining positions of leadership in government. Women, she reminds us, are the means to reproduction and also the “biggest source of cheap labor in this country and the world.” Paying women equally the same as white men, she argues, means white women will earn about $100 more per month, and women of color about $300 more per month, resulting in the biggest stimulus to our country’s economy. Women, she says, will pump their earnings back into the economy and not into Swiss bank accounts. The crowd breaks out in thunderous applause. Glorious Gloria! Even at 80, she still rocks the feminist movement.
Gloria speaks to us as sisters in a collective quest for equality and justice. The energy in the room is electric and contagious. For me it’s a dream fulfilled to see the face and hear the voice of a movement that has influenced my life in so many ways. I leave exhilarated, and deeply mindful in spite of our progress, for my daughters, we still have a long way to go.